No law enforcement officials have been prosecuted in Lebanon for their unlawful and excessive use of force against protesters during anti-government protests since 2019, Amnesty International said today as it publishes a new report with the Omega Research Foundation.
The new report, ‘My Eye Exploded’, details how law enforcement officials in many countries around the world have employed Kinetic Impact Projectiles (KIPs), such as rubber bullets, recklessly or for punitive effect in unjustified or disproportionate uses of force. It also examines other types of projectiles, such as metal pellets which are not designed for use in law enforcement, are particularly dangerous, and whose use in law enforcement must be prohibited; and the unlawful use of tear gas canisters as projectiles fired directly against individuals. The report advocates for the creation of a new Torture-Free Trade Treaty, which would close significant regulatory gaps by introducing global, legally-binding prohibitions and trade controls on law enforcement equipment used in the commission of torture or other ill-treatment.
In Lebanon, since October 2019, Amnesty International has documented how security forces and riot police have recklessly fired live ammunition, tear gas canisters, metal pellets and rubber bullets directly at largely peaceful protesters from close range, resulting in at least three deaths and injuring hundreds of others.
“During their crackdowns on largely peaceful protests, the Lebanese security forces fired live ammunition, shot rubber bullets, metal pellets and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds, often at chest level and from close range, and brutally beat protesters. Those actions, which led to permanent injuries for scores of protesters, suggest that the security forces intended to harm demonstrators and dissuade others from protesting,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“It is shameful that there have been no meaningful investigations into the unlawful use of force by Lebanon’s security forces. Judicial officials have stonewalled criminal complaints submitted by protesters and have failed to prosecute any law enforcement officials for their actions, reinforcing the message that they can act with impunity. The Lebanese government must impose restrictions on the use of KIPs by law enforcement agencies, including a complete ban on their use for generalized crowd control.”
Permanent injuries from KIPs
Amnesty International has documented several instances in which security forces fired rubber bullets randomly into crowds of protesters, often at close range. They deliberately targeted protesters’ heads and chests, causing permanent injuries to eyes, faces, necks, chests and upper arms.
In late 2019, at least 15 complaints were filed by a lawyers’ committee on behalf of protesters under the anti-torture law, the 2018 law for missing persons, and Article 329 of Lebanon’s Penal Code which prohibits the obstruction of people’s enjoyment of their civil rights. The lawyers detailed acts of torture and other ill-treatment that occurred amid the protests, as well as during arrests, transportation to the detention centre, and interrogations. At least one criminal complaint related to a protester who was shot with a rubber bullet and lost his left eye during a protest that occurred on 8 August 2020. None of these cases has been investigated, and victims of violations have not received adequate remedy for the physical and psychological injuries they suffered.
In 2019 and 2020, Amnesty International interviewed more than a dozen protestors who were injured after security forces fired KIPs directly at crowds, including two who suffered serious eye injuries.
It is shameful that there have been no meaningful investigations into the unlawful use of force by Lebanon’s security forces.Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International
Omar told Amnesty International that he suffered a permanent eye injury after security forces fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a protest in downtown Beirut on 8 August 2020. The Lebanese authorities did not provide him with any compensation or medical care.
Hussein, who was partially blinded in one eye on 8 August 2020 by a rubber bullet after security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into crowds from close range, received medical care on the day of the protest at the expense of the Ministry of Health. He did not, however, receive any support from the government for his multiple follow-up surgeries or compensation for the harm he suffered.
The weapons and equipment identified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab included French-produced vehicle-mounted launchers (Alsetex Land Cougar 12); tear gas grenades (Nobel Sport Sécurité MP7, Alsetex CM4 and CM6); rubber bullets (SAPL Gomm-Cogne ammunition calibre cartridges); grenade launchers (Alsetex Chouka and Cougar); and Arquus Sherpa armoured personnel carriers.
Exporters of weapons, including France, must prohibit transfers of less-lethal law enforcement equipment when there is a clear risk that they may be used to inflict human rights violations by end users, and prohibit the production and trade of inherently abusive KIPs that cannot be used in line with international human rights law and standards.
“France’s lax export controls have allowed their equipment to be used by security forces who commit serious violations with impunity. It’s time for France to take some responsibility for enabling these violations, including by ending the production of inherently abusive KIPs and ensuring that they block sales in situations where there is a clear risk that these weapons will be used to commit rights violations,” said Aya Majzoub.
The report, ‘My Eye Exploded’, is based on research in more than 30 countries over the last five years. It documents how dozens of protesters and bystanders have been killed and thousands maimed by the reckless and disproportionate use of lethal law enforcement weaponry, including KIPs, rubberized buckshot, and tear gas grenades aimed directly at demonstrators.
Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation are among 30 organizations calling for a Torture-Free Trade Treaty. The accord would prohibit the manufacture and trade of KIPs and other law enforcement weapons, and introduce human rights-based trade controls on the supply of other law enforcement equipment, including rubber and plastic bullets.